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Full text of "My ragpicker [microform]"

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^ xIPPLIED IIVMGE Inc 

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~.S Rochester, New York U609 USA 

j^g (716) ^82 - 0300 - Phone 

^B (716) 288-5989 -Fax 



■i 




r 



y i. 







MY RAGPICKER 



MARV.I \V\LLI.F ■ 

" PiamsUj Quarri^i '^j, 

Out I,/ Uff,' ,i( 



Hith nbivatioiu by 
iiy>\9 r.ANDER 



TORONTO 

THE MUSSON BCX)K COMPAXV 
IJMCTF]> 

LONDON : ANDREV^ MFI.ROSi: 
1911 




-i 



•'■••iiylAri 



^1 



MY RAGPICKER 



By 

MARY E. WALLER 

Author of " The Wood-carver of 'Lympus " 
" Flamsted Quarries." '• A Year 
Out of Life." etc 



With Illustrations by 
EDGAR LANDER 



TORONTO 

THE MUSSON BOOK COMPANY 

LIMITED 

LONDON : ANDREW MELROSE 

1911 






LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS 
My Ragpicker . . Frontiapiece 

I USED TO KNEEL BY THE 
WINDOW WITH MY 
BYES FIXED ON OuR 

^^^^ • • . Facing p. 80 

I COULD NOT LEAVE THEM 

UNTIL I HAD SEEN It „ 112 



09501106 




MY RAGPICKER 

T^T'HAT a stately dame ! 
^yf You think I'm dreaming ? 
Oh no, only seeing visions. You 
know my weakness ; indulge me. 

lad ? ""^ ^ ^^^ *^°^* *^« 

Oh, you aU know her-Notre 
pame of Paris. But do you 
W anything about the quarter 
of the Buttes-Chaumont ? Any- 
thing of its weedy wastes where 
the butchers of La Villette keep 



My Ragpicker 

their cattle? Of its byways 
and blind aUeys, of its tumble- 
down sheds and glaring lime- 
washed huts and houses? Do 
you know anything of its poverty 
and filth ? ^ J 

You don't? What, you art- 
fledglings, who gaze so often on 
the majesty of Notre Dame, know 
nothing of the forsaken humanity 
that herds in the vicinity of the 
Buttes-Chaumont— those found- 
lings of life over whom the gra- 
cious dame you so much admire 
keeps watch and ward ? 

No? Very well, then ; let me 

dream on for a short hour until 

you see the cathedral of Notre 

Dame from the quarter of the 

6 



My Ragpicker 

Buttes-Chaumont and with the 
eyes of my little Paris rag- 
picker. 

Ah, ah, now you are interested ! 
Very good, gentlemen ; you think 
I am going to tell you what my 
little Nanette told me out under 
the acacias in the park the other 
evening ? 

Well, why not? After all it 
will do you no harm, you art- 
fledglings of a year with the 
down on your lips as green as 
the paint on your palettes. We're 
good comrades, and I bear 
you no ill; we understand one 
another, as men, and, in a way, 
we are all honourable. 
Only in a way, you think ? 
7 



i 



My Ragpicker 

That may be; but, jesting 
apai^ It wm do you no hai^ 
my friends, to have a little white 
soul— there is such even if it be 
but a rag-picker's-laid bare be- 
fore you. I shaU handle it rever- 
ently enough, and so far as you 
are ooncemed-weU, possibly life 
on that side has some heights 
whicH you,myyearling8, with your 
Icarus wings will fail to reach, 
and certain depths which your 
ar^lummet wiU never sound. 
What did Nanette say ? 
Patience, patience ; all in good 
time. What storm-petrels you 
are to be sure! I'm coming to 
that presently. You don't know, 
then, that in some of the most 
8 



My Ragpicker 

obscure and unfindable courts of 
the Buttes-Chaumont the rag- 
pickers hive as well as thrive? 
A true folk's type they are too ; 
interesting study, I assure you, 
humanly considered. 

What do you say, Cupidon ?— 
You've never been up early 
enough to see them ? 

So I thought. Mistress Art 
catches her boys napping after a 
night's carousal, eh ' I'm up and 
at my casement good three hours 
before your true Parisian is astir. 
I like to see the shadows sharpen 
on the chimney pots of Rue 
Laffitte. About six months ago, I 
began to rise oven an hour earlier, 
and every morning, on opening 
9 



My Ragpicker 

the shutters, the same living 
picture met my eyes— not an 
unwelcome one, I assure you ;— 
always a refuse-heap on the side- 
walk and beside it a little figure 
m a faded blue cotton gown and 
a fabulous headgear that all but 
concealed her face. On her back 
was the rag-sack the grotesque 
hump of which wholly disfigured 
as well as concealea any lines of 
grace she may have possessed. 

At first, the dexterous move- 
ments of her hands riveted my 
attention— the hands themselves 
for that matter, small, shapely, 
begrimed— your romance in all 
honour, gentlemen !— to the ex- 
tent that they were crustaceous. 
10 



My Ragpicker 

It was marvellous how she man- 
aged her iron pick ; its movement 
seemed incessant in her hands. 
First there was a quick dive, like 
a swallow's angle, then a skilful 
toss and, although she never once 
looked behind her, the bit of 
refuse, whether rag, food, string 
or paper, straightway took its 
certain flight into the sack which 
gradually assumed such gigantic 
proportions that a general over- 
turn seemed inevitable. But no ; 
having filled it to bursting, th^ 
indefatigable little worker shook 
herself free of the unappetizing 
accumulations, and disappeared 
down the street— Rue Laffitte, 
you know it — swinging her sceptre 
11 



My Ragpicker 



with aU the royal aplomb of her 
profession. 

An interesting study, I assure 
you J and none the less so did 
It become when, as I was 
watching her one morning, an 
untoward event was the means of 
bursting this chrysalis and setting 
free the genuine Psyche that was 
concealed therein. A wooUen- 
wound wire, which she had evid- 
ently mistaken for a string, had 
^y some means become firmly 
fi^ed ma joint of the curi; 
store The pick as usual per- 
formed its service, but the stub- 
i^om wire refused to yield 
and the sack, given the trans- 
ferred momentmn, took sudden 
12 



My Ragpicker 

flight over the little ragpicker's 
head. 

Having righted herself, and evi( 
ently vexed at the unwarrant- 
able delay, a second dive of the 
pick was intended to finish mat- 
ters speedily. Putting forth all 
her strength, she tugged at the 
wire which, with the depravity 
inanimate things sometimes dis- 
play, suddenly, and without warn- 
ing, carromed on my shutter. 
From the gutter rose a cloud of 
dust, rags and paper; for a 
moment chaos reigned; then my 
vision cleared only to be dazzled 
by what I saw :— the sack lay in 
the gutter, and on it, minus the 
head gear, the loveliest 



18 



piece 



^y Ragpicker 

budding womanhood it has been 
my good fortune to see since I 

put on an eye 'lass. 
My rooms a. on the ground 

floor; It was only a short ^p^ 

you understand 

I helped her to her feet, and took 
my reward in looking my fill 
She feU to work with a ringing 
laugh and a "thank you, m^ 
sieur, the mere remen^brance of 
which kept me in good humour 
for a week. 

You want to know what she 
wai like ? 

Just picture to yourselves a 

gracefd girl of seventeen, slim 

as a willow shoot but round and 

soft as a baby, with a heao' that 

14 



My Ragpicker 

would make suicides of you all if 
you were to attempt to paint it ; 

a complexion of moon white 

I've seen such occasionally at the 
Hippodrome, I remember a fam- 
ous bareback rider of the old 
regime had it— colourless, yet indi- 
cative of perfect health, the Bfa- 
donna there in Dresden comes the 
nearest to it; eyes large-irised, 
full, lids drooping a little at the 
comers, like the Empress Euge- 
nie's in the time of the empire— 
but you don't remember that— 
and the colour, heaven knows 
what ! Something to match the 
hair which rippled away from her 
forehead and fell in chestnut- 
brown waves to her waist; nose 
15 






My Ragpicker 

piquant, chin not wholly round, 
mouth perfect, and a set of teeth !— 
But how can I tell you ? A piece 
of nature like that puts the whole 
vocabulary of art to shame. 

As I said, I looked my fill— 
for that morning, be it under- 
stood, and my captivating rag- 
picker, having completed her task, 
bade me good-bye in a voice 
brim full of cheery good-will, and 
swung off down the street, leaving 
me the wire as a souvenir, and a 
seat on the curbstone dressed as I 
was in becoming bedroom n^g- 
lig6. 

How long did I sit there ? 
Have done with your questions ! 
Oh, well, if you must know, two 
16 



ound, 

th!— 

piece 

whole 

£01— 
nder- 
rag- 
task, 
voice 
, and 
iving 
nd a 
. as I 
n^g- 

? 

ons ! 
two 



My Ragpicker 

hours; for, between ourselves, 
there are two alternatives in Paris 
I dread like the pest:— to enter 
my room with the night pob'ce 
out in full force, or to rouse a 
sleepy concierge at the unheard- 
of hour of five in the morn- 
ing. 

** Perhaps it is not necessary 
to add that the next morn- 
ing, with the first streak of grey 
in the east, I was at my win- 
dow. 

There she was, my Psyche of 
ragpickers, hard at work in her 
usual regimentals! She gave a 
quick upward glance, an entranc- 
ing smile, and I, forgetting certain 
twinges induced by the rheumy 
17 



B 



i 



My Ragpicker 

air of the curbstone the day be- 
fore, was at her side— this time 
in full dress. 

" Good-morning, Mademoiselle 
Ragpicker," I said. 

"Good-morning, Monsieur Up- 
before-the-sun ! " 

They have mother wit, this 
tribe, and a language of their own. 
Characteristics are seized upon and 
personified in a trice, but the cog- 
nomen sticks thereafter like a 
burr. The morning was a chilly 
one in March— you know the 
kind, when the Seine has the 
aathma and the chestnuts in the 
Bois drip with the fog. The 
piquant nose had a purple tinge 
about the nostrils and the mouth 
18 



My Ragpicker 

a drawn expression that, some- 
how, went to my heart. 

" It must be dismal enough for 
you, mademoiselle, in this wea- 
ther," I ventured, for there was 
that about her that warned me 
not to poach too abruptly on her 
preserve. 

" Oh, no, monsieur," she re- 
pb'-d in a voice exquisitely cad- 
eL dd, "I am contented with my 
lot." 

My friends, it's a night for con- 
fessions. I had risen at daybreak 
to win a smile from one who, I 
supposed, was a grisette of a rag- 
picker, and, to my keen humilia- 
tion, had received a sermon, that 
put my years to shame, from a 
19 



H 



My Ragpicker 

gutter philosopher. Contentment! 
I had been seeking it, cultivating 
It to the best of my ability since 

my youth-vainly trying to gather 
^apes from thorns and figs from 
thistles, and here, at last, I was 

^nfronted with it in the gutter! 
yyell, as ye sow, so shall ye reap 
-true, true ; I've read that some- 
where. But what was I say- 
ing? ^ 

I was staggered but not daunted. 

Mademoiselle — " 

She supplemented the unfin- 
ished mterrogation with the frank- 
ness of a child :— 

« w" ^^ Nanette, monsieur." 
WeU, then, Nanetto, now that 
you have finished your work, will 
20 



ii ! 



My Ragpicker 

Shm of wme and a biscuit with 
me around tlie comer T At iea«t. 
It wJl serve to preserve your 
complexion till breakfast." 

Lend me your tobacco-pouch 
Cupidon. the chamois one. ffi 
1 rub my glasses-they blur like 

I can never forget the look on 

h« face as I somewhat hesitat- 
•"^y proffered my escort. For a 
moment maoJike and fool that 

i^:!'/*^«8'"iWasIwhohad 
«Jled forth the beatific look which 
would have made Del Sarto 

immortal had he caught the like 

for one of his madonnas; but I 

21 



My Ragpicker 

was quickly undeceived. With 
peculiar grace she carried her 

hand to her heart-do you remem- 
ber that hand of Eotari^s Mag- 
dalen over in the Dresden gallery ? 
It was like that, barring, excuse 
nie, the crustations. 

" Oh, monsieur, you are good » 
-tears sprang to the beautiful 
eyes, and she finished with what 
was mtended for a laugh, but 
m reality, was only a second 
remove from a suppressed sob,- 
how could you know I was so 
hungry ? " 

"Because after such work as 

this -I poked the bulging sack 

with my cane and trusted to its 

not squeaking at my lie, hke the 

22 



My Ragpicker 

horse-hide in the faiiy tale —" I 
should be, and I know you must 
be, for it's the early bird that 
catches the worm." 

I made shift to answer thus, 
not very coherently, it must be 
confessed, for my feelings had 
undergone altogether too powerful 
a revolution during the five min- 
utes in which I stood by her 
side. 

Need I say that the next half- 
hour was the happiest of my life ? 
For, at last, that life had an ob- 
ject, and I was successful in at- 
taining it. My little ragpicker 
seated at a table of my petty 
restaurateur, who, for an extra fee 
outdid himself in serving an early 
23 



■ 



My Ragpicker 

repast, devoured rolls, coffee and 
cheese-cheese, coffee and rolls, 
until my bewildered senses had 
not credited what they recorded 
"f, at the finish, the lack of my 
8ole five franc piece in my vest 
pocket had not furnished con- 
vmcmg proof. I concluded, in- 

you been there.-that the diges- 
tive apparatus of the species L- 
picker mm be somewhat diffef- 
ent from that of ordinary mortals 
and clo«,iy ,iii,<i ^ ^^ ^^^^ 

quacfruple-stomached ruminants. 

sieur " . ^°""""* *'""^' '°°°- 
sieur ; she sprang from her seat 

the moment she had finished, no 

loitermg on her part, and curtsied 

24 



f ) 

ill 



My Ragpicker 



with a grace a beUe of the EI™& 
might envy; "you may label 
me now 'full • like the omnib,ues. 
and- There was a pause, a 

sudden twitching of the con.;™ 
of her mouth together with a 
tightening of the muscles of her 

'^'•'I/'tte first time in my 
Hie that I remember." 

And then . 

Hurry? 

./^; { ^^^'^'t- Give me that 
Dit of chamois again. The devil 
take your impatience, you year- 
Imp. Give me time, and I will 
tell you all ; why hurry ? We 
have the night before us. 

You recall the woman in the 

vaudeville who is happy at fifty 

25 -^ 



My Ragpicker 

because, at last, she experiences 
a genmne emotion f I count my- 
self happy with her. V/ith a 
c^ous birdliice movement, Nan- 
ette se^ed my hands m both her 
little gnmy ones, and ior four 
Paradisaica seconds (I know, for 

I counted them, comrades, by my 
oud heartbeats). I fdt the ^^ 

Md the warm droppings of four 
tears-nmnerically exact, W 

sack and seiang her pick, she 
went out into thegreymisV^o™! 

™1^ 7f '""* *° "'8''* •'"fore I 
recovery from my-emotion. 

Our friendship blossomed apace 

after that. A good comradeLip 



I! 



My Ragpicker 

establiHhed itself between us 
founded on a peculiar relationship 
which we recognized in each other's 
manner, but of which we never 
once spoke. On her side there 
was the confiding frankr>ess of a 
chila ; on mine-weU, a o^oarter 
of a centuiy ago when I wm your 
age, I ought to have hung a mill- 
stone around the neck of my 
Mistress Art, who has brought 
me to bankruptcy in affection, 
and contented myself with human 
relationships like other men. At 
tunes when I think of this, I in- 
dulge myself with the thought 
that I, too, might have had some 
graceful will-o'-the-wisp of seven- 
teen to caU me father-«ome rav- 
27 



mn 



iii' 



My Ragpicker 

"hing bit of womankind that I 
^f «'«"" to my vezy own 

K. "' -^ '-'' '•°- °^ w 

You think I.„. dreaming now » 
i:es-yes ; but no more of your 
interruptions. Let me tell you 

w ^ T?'^' ""** "y feelings to-' 
wards the girl were those of latt- 
erly protector and, excuse me, 
comnussary general. I saw to it 

Zl "'^^ "«"' '"»8V after 

Jr. r"""' .''""ever, interfered 
'^^^"''"^."dlneveraocom- 
pamed her on her rounds. She 
drew the line sharply between her 
professional and-social life; but 
we always found time for an 
28 



My Ragpicker 

foUowed by coffee and rolls at 
our restaurateur's. Her sprightlv 
prattle pleased me, althoSdT 
uvered m a jargon scarcely intelli- 

method of supplementing ,nd 
transposmg vowel sounds,-but I 
««djy learned it and ^^ soon 
mbated mto the mysteries of 
the profession which acquired new 

"^'«f;. fro" n>y acquaintance 
with tins waif of the streets. 

The first time I took her out to 
Pontamebleau; I thought a bit 

of the real would do her good after 
spending her Kfe among such arti- 

hcial abominations. But no; she 
29 



i- 

i 









My Ragpicker 

was m at ease; she longed for 
the city and again and again dur- 
ing the long spring afternoon she 
sought an opening in the woods 
and shading her eyes with her 
hand, gazed long and steadily 
Panswards. I failed to interpret 
her manner, but that did not sur- 
prise me. She was a prismatic 
little creature, and in her many- 
sidedness I found a unique charm 
that whetted as well as piqued 
my mascuhne curiosity. I deter- 
mined, however, that the next half 
holiday's pleasure should be self- 
chosen. 

Imagine my surprise, then, when 
to my morning question: " Where 
shall we go this afternoon, Nan- 
30 



My Ragpicter 



ettef" she made answer, carmne 
her hand to her heart ^^^ 

pecnW gesture which, Ihadi 
to learn, accompanied somepower- 

^Jtre DareT""' '^* "^ «° *° 

Had she proposed a visit t» the 

l^ea sewers, or the ia-tchens o 
Samt Louis, I should have been 
less nonplussed; for the Hip^ 
d«)me I was fully prepared-C 
Notee Dame ! What could a rag! 
P*r want of Our Lady ff 

I had not renewed my acquaint- 
ance with the interior oTSfe 

cathedral for years; with the !x! 
31 



fll 



m . 



My Ragpicker 

tenor, as you know, I am chroni- 
cally in love. However, I acqui- 
esced without demur and appointed 
to meet her that afternoon on 
the Pont de I'Archeveche ; but 
I confess I was puzzled. I had 
long known that on her way home- 
wards mornings, she took a round- 
about way, passing through the 
great square of Notre Dame, for I 
had followed her, unbeknown, to 
see if, perchance, my faith in her 
innocent child nature might have 
been misplaced. There was never 
anything to shake my confidence ; 
now and then a barter of merry 
words with the members of her 
profession, but always straight 
on, turning neither to right nor 
32 



My Ragpicker 



^laughed at my ungrounded 

faara as I watched the Bttle tatter 
demahon whose angelic beaX 

was whoUy disguised beneath the 
dd kerchef, with its accretions 
of apparent generations, and the 

litf ^V? *'**' '^hich her 
tehe body bent as i, weighted 
^th three score year. "^o, not 
fa-owu-g would trou, .. ii^eif 
to turn twice to look at a dirty 
Pam ragpicker ? Not knowing ! 

That afternoon I prepare, to 

be ^tertained-NotreVnae wit^ 
a ragpicker for cicerone ! Deli 
cious, wasn't it ? 

33 , 



My Ragpicker 

I stood leaning on the parapet, 
looking at Our Lady— you know 
the view— when I felt a hand laid 
on my ann. I looked down, not 
recognizing it at first, for it was 
dean, and met Nanette's face 
upturned to mine with the rapt 
expression of a Cecilia in ec- 
stasy. 

" Monsieur,"— her hand went 
to her breast,—" is she not beau- 
tiful ? » 

" Who, Nanette ? " I asked in 
some surprise. 

i For answer she pointed to the 
cathedral, her eyes dwelling upon 
it with an intensity that startled 
me. So she continued to stand, 
lost to me and the world around 



My Ragpicker 

her, while I drank in h^^ k 

fountain had broSl T 7^ 

;^» about HeSea?Ut^« 

^cloae clustering curls that gS 
m the s„„3hine lite a saint'f a„^ 
oie. Tn unconscious 



leaned with clasped hand: 



parapet, 

magnificent 



grace she 
on the 



the 



rapt gaze fixed 



on 



Dame. 



apse of Notre 



It was time to be 



35 



going. 



My Ragpicker 

"Come, Nanette," I said, and 
slipping her hand into mine fairly 
led her into the cathedral. 

The girl's demeanour that April 
afternoon was to me a psychical 
revelation. Some powerful spiri- 
tual agency was at work within 
her; some indefinable influence 
that, strengthened by the envir- 
onment, played upon her intense 
emotional nature till her body 
thrilled response. The ever- 
changing expression of the marvel- 
lous eyes, the constant dilation 
and contraction of the pupils, the 
tremulous movement of chin and 
lips, the outward curve and in- 
flation of the sensitive nostrils, 
together with the pliant sway of 
36 



:!i 



My Ragpicker 



teansfa the muscles-^ this. I 

morpliosis. 

My children, slaves to Art that 

you are there may come some rare 
^och m your lives to compT" 

sate for such serfdom. Art. abso- 
^te uustress that she is, cUims 
as for her own eternally, both 
body and soul, but, mc'^mp:* 
sation she gives us a few t«n- 
sient hours like those I passed 

wath my raa,icker in Notre Dame 
and, with them, the deeply har- 
momous seeing eyes that alone 
oan appreciate such a creation of 
S7 



r 



My Ragpicker 

the Creator's r-a creature in 
whose body divinity must surely 
dweU, such is its perfectness, 
and animated by a soul to inter- 
pret that indwelling divinity in 
such ever-varying grace of face 
and figure that beauty becomes 
religion, and Art, true worship. 

I showed her aU there was to see, 
even to the cases filled ^-dth costly 
robes and altar - cloths. The 

attendant looked— looked did I 
say? ^^ X 

No, no, Cupidon; it is you 
who are dreaming now; hands 
off your rapier. Why, my boy, 
your blue eyes are ablaze ahready i 
Softly, softly, my son ; wait un- 
til I have told you the rest. Ifor- 
38 



My Ragpicker 



gave him on account of his youth 
and you would have done the' 
same. 

We spoke but little. Evidently 
the girl was but half aware of my 
protectmg presence. In silence 
we watched the light from the 
settmg sun flame against the great 
rose wmdow-^rimson, vioht and 
gold, amethystine purple, cerulean 
^ey then night. You have seen 
It before now, but not through the 
eyes of a ragpicker as I have. 
She stood quietly a moment in 
the porch. 

"Good-night, monsieur," she 
said absently, giving me both her 
hands ; then she turned abruptly 
to go. ^ ^ 

39 






u 




My Ragpicker 

" What ?" I held them longer 
than I was wont ; " going so soon, 
Nanette ? " 

" Yes, so soon, monsieur." She 
tried to smile, but there were 
tears in her voice. 

" But one word before you go, 
Nanette. Will you not give me a 
hohday soon and take me to the 
Buttes-Cha. iont to show me 
your home aiid the tricks of the 
trade ? " 

" Gladly, monsieur ; it will be a 
pleasure to show you all you wish 
to see— but *home?' I don't 
understand." 

"Never mind that now, Nan- 
ette ; tell me." I lifted her face on 
the pahn of my hand; I thought I 
40 



My Ragpicker 

had a clue to her afternoon mood, 
" tell me, have you a mother ? " 

God knows why I put that 
question-I don't. It was not 
premeditated ; if it had been, I 
could have been held for soul- 
murder at least. As it was, I 
felt guilty of manslaughter. 

Instantly the lines of her face 
grew rigid; the nostrils nharpened; 
her cheeks hollowed visibly. Then 
the mental agony she was evi- 
dently undergoing found vent in 
a ha rawn breath, foUowed 
by a despairing cry, as she 
wrenched her hands free from mine 
and fled some-whither before I 
thought to turn to watch her 
flight. 

41 



t 



N 



My Ragpicker 



I have heard one such cry be- 
fore, on the left bank of the Seine 
—you know my haunts— a ciy 
accompanied by a dull plash and 
two or three succeeding gurgles. 
That nameless cry and its twin, 
Nanette's, gave me no rest. I 
wandered about the wastes of the 
Buttes-Chaumont during the small 
hours of the night, trying to find 
the ragpickers' hive. 

What ? You wouldn't have 
believed it of nine and forty ? 
Neither would I— at your age. 
As well search for a weasel in 
a marmot's hole. With a free- 
masonry that baffled every effort 
at discovery of their habitat, 
the loyal residents of the Buttes- 
42 



i i: 



My Ragpicker 

Chaumont put me again and again 
off the track. I saw nothing of 
her, heard nothing of her, and re- 
turned to Rue Laffite just in time 
to see the girl shoulder her sack 
and hurry away. 

There was something wrong; 
she had come an hour earlier in 
order to avoid me, and her intent 
was to be off before I was up. I 
resolved to put an end to aU such 
chicanery next morning, for our 
relations had been altogether too 
open and pleasant to permit .any- 
thing equivocal at that late date. 
I was up betimes in consequence, 
and flung open my shutters. Li 
the uncertain light I caught the 
glimmer of a lantern, flashing 
43 



My Ragpicker 

hither and thither about the heap 
of refuse like a belated wiU-o'- 
the-wisp. I had judged correctly. 
She was there. 

"Nanette,"— I spoke peremp- 
torily,—" I want to speak with 
you. No, stop ! " I added sharply, 
for she attempted to run. 

The unusual tone had the de- 
sired effect. With an appealing 
glance and a deprecatory gesture, 
she stood stiU. Then I joined her. 
But she was changed! At the 
first glance I could scarcely be- 
heve It was my little Nanette 
who had been so contented with 
her lot. Heavy blue rings, circling 
her eyes, gave them a strained, 
unsteady look. Directly over each 



m 



My Ragpicker 

eysbrow, a red, purple-veined 
swelling, evidently the result of 
prolonged weeping, disfigured 
the full white forehead; the 
mouth looked pinched and 
sunken; from time to time the 
comers twitched nervously. I 
felt strangely bloodguilty. 

" Nanette," I essayed to speak 
as usual, " you owe me a holiday 
now. Will you not take me to- 
day, this very morning, Lv the 
Buttes-Chaumont ? " 

She hesitated. But I— well, 
I have a nose to scent a mystery* 
and I determined to find out the 
child's environment before I passed 
another night (d fresco. Had she 
denied me, I should have dogged 
45 



My Ragpicker 

her steps untU I obtained some 
clue. 

She felt this, and in her present 
state knew her will was no match 
for mine. 

" Yes, monsiemr," she said with 
effort, and fell to work with a 
nervous impetuosity that infalli- 
bly gauged the internal pressure. 

I foUowed her closely on her 
rounds-she had refused the usual 
rolls and coffee, nor did I press 
her— and as she turned homewards, 
I noticed there was no d^tou^ 
through the cathedral square. 
We exchanged no word. On she 
trudged, it must be confessed, 
with some abatement of royalty in 
her carriage, I following at a re- 
46 



My Ragpicker 

spectful distance. What a weary 
stretch! And the day's work 
scarce begun. Along the Boule- 
vard La ViUette, Rue de BeUe- 
viUe— it was stiU too early for 
many workmen— then through 
intncate streets and byways to 
the Place du Danube. After that 
I lost my bearings completely. 
In and out we made our way 
through a labyrinth of dusty pas- 
sages and forsaken aUeys, until 
we emerged into a sandy lane, or 
rather field-path that led up a hilly 
slope between piles of old boards, 
lime heaps, masses of jagged 
stone and ruins of decaying cattle- 
sheds. 

Of a sudden Nanette turned a 
47 



My Ragpicker 

sharp ^ngle ; following her close- 
ly, and entering a blind alley, I 
found myself before a wooden gate. 
It was bolted. Through a hole 
in the boards the girl thrust her 
hand, and the mysterious portal 
opened to admit us. I have 
never been able to reckon the num- 
ber of the canine race that guarded 
this entrance. Cerberus-headed 
seemed each one, so conglomerate 
was the mixture of head and tail. 
With open jaws, and yelpings that 
ranged throughout the gamut, 
they hurled themselves upon us. 
However, a word from Nanette 
quieted them and they contented 
themselves with some abortive 
attempts at growling. 
18 



My Ragpicker 

We were in a large weed-grown 
court, and opposite to us was a 
one-storey lime-washed house 
On the threshold of the entrance 
stood a short thick-set man of 
apparently thirty. The coarse 
blouse failed to hide the astonish- 
ing breadth of shoulder and 
strength of limb. His head was 
covered with an underbrush growth 
of coal-black hair that bristled 
electricaUy straight up from his 
square forehead, and the deep- 
set eyes lowered at me from be- 
neath heavy overhanging brows. 
^ skm was a swarthy olive 
and, what struck me as notice- 
ably strange, he was beardless. 
1 was prepared for the douche 
49 







My Ragpicker 



faith, at 



again 
tricks 



which I had, in 
zero. 

"Eh, Nanette! Back 
so soon ? At your old 
again, I'll warrant." 

I forgave him this ungracious 
speech for the voice in which it was 
delivered :— rich, deep, full, it 
wds cordial in spite of himself. All 
his surliness failed to impair its 
charming qualities. 

" Monsieur," — I determined 
that the Buttes-Chaumont should 
bear witness to my courtesy at 
least, and besides, I wanted to 
shield Nanette,—" my little friend 
here, Nanette, has offered, with 
your permission be it under- 
stood, to show me your establish- 
50 



My Ragpicker 

ment, in which I am much inter- 
ested." 

He turned on his heel. They 
brook no interference— this tribe; 
the man was plainly chafing at 
this unwarranted visit. He thrust 
his hands into his blouse. 

*'A3 you please," he growled in 
his nch bass, and with the air of 
a grand seigneur flung wide the 
door to his domicile. 

I had a glimpse of two rooms 
with cemented floor, as I foUowed 
Nanette through the passage to 
the opposite door that opened on 
a large backyard which, in truth 
was little more than a dung-heap! 
A fat porker wallowed in the 
morass ; two or three goats nib- 
61 



My Ragpicker 



bled at the leaves of an overhang- 
ing tree, and countless fowl — 
turkeys, hens, Spanish cocks, and 
pigeons of all breeds — ^perched 
and fluttered about this unique 
garden oi the Hesperides. 

Still following Nanette, who as 
yet had spoken no word, I made 
a somewhat difficult passage across 
the second court, and, passing 
through a gate in the rough board 
fence, was ushered into the regular 
establishment — a court similar 
to the first with an entrance from 
another blind alley, and sur- 
rounded by open sheds. 

Here the " business," the sort- 
ing, was carried on. Even at 
that early hour, the sheds and 
62 



My Ragpicker 

court were filled with the morn- 
ing's gleanings from which arose 
— ^not the perfumes of Araby, I 
assure you. A trio of loathsome 
hags, cadaverous, ash-grey, like 
those three ancient virgins of 
Greece, were hovering around the 
larger piles, vulture-Uke over the 
carrion ! Meanwhile, a half dozen 
of dirt-encrusted, half-naked imps 
swarmed like vermin on the smaller 
heaps. And always there was 
that incessant movement of the 
hands :— right, left, up, down, 
backwards and forwards they dived 
and picked and flung and tossed, 
till hither and thither and yon, 
each to its rightful deposit, flew 
glass, leather, wool, bones, cigar- 
63 






! 



My Ragpicker 

stumps—" orphans "in their lingo 
— bread-bits, drumsticks — but 
enough, shades of chicken soup 
and palate-tickling metamorpho- 
sis of the restaurateur's hach6! 
What, are you taking notes. 
Philosopher? You think you 
have found a subject sufficiently 
bizarre to win you the "first" 
at the next salon? I wish you 
joy; but you need the lights — 
the early morning ones, you know 
— ^the sim not yet an hour high 
and the uncertainty of dawn still 
creeping about in the farthermost 
comers of the shed, and the grey 
waste of sandy court and dusty 
boards unrelieved save for some 
scrap of colour in a rag-heap, or 
5* 



[ 



n 



i:i 



My Ragpicker 

the glint of a bit of broken glass 
reflecting a cool sunbeam that, 
somehow, has found entrance 
through the worm-eaten fence. 

Our arrival made no commo- 
tion. The sorters worked like 
automatons, subject to the keen 
eye of the overseer, the " appren- 
tice " so-called. He cast a search- 
ing glance upon Nanette, who 
ignored him wholly. She depo- 
sited her sack in a comer and 
returned to me. 

"I was like that onr<^. mon- 
sieur," she said, pointing to a 
corner of the shed. 

I followed her gesture eagerly, 
fo_* they were the first words she 
had spoken. Straining my eyes 
65 



My Ragpicker 

to penetrate the gloom, I dis- 
cerned a poor little mite, of some 
SIX years perhaps, naked save for 
an old woollen chemise of com- 
promising colom-, and a toree- 
comered rag pinned, m lieu of a 
ahawl, about her ihoulders. She 
was seated k la turque beside a 
huge pile of broken glass made up 
wholly of the jagged necks of 
bottles and wine-flasks. From 
them she was industriously pick- 
ing the resin and sealing-wax, 
from time to time cracking off the 
more adhesive portions with a 
rusty nail. 

Fancy her, my friends, this 
little waif of humanity thus earn- 
ing her honest, ay, and honour- 
66 



My Ragpicker 

able livelihood of four to eight 
sous a day, and then teU me if, 
m the eyes of this our arrogant 
nineteenth century, that flaunts 
Its banner in the face of the other 
eighteen, such a life would not 
appear, at best, an abortion ?- 
Content with her lot ! I turned 
to Nanette. 
]] How long ago was that ? " 
" Ten years, monsieur ; but I 
was advanced "-it seems that 
even this career has its grades— 
"to sorter two years ago, and 
this spnng to ragpicker." There 
was pride in her voice. 

"And where do you live, 
Nanette? Take me to your 
home." 

67 



My Ragpicker 



tt 



Live? Do you mean where 
I sleep ? " I saw she was puzzled. 
" Yes." 

"Come this way, monsieur." 
She passed out into the blind 
alley and across it to a long low 
storehouse with a loft. 

"The best rags, linen and 
woollen, are stored here. Mon- 
sieur Jean waits for a rise, then 
it is empty again. Can you 
climb ? " She laid her hand on 
the round of a ladder that led to 
the loft. 

"Tiy me," I said, and fol- 
lowed her as best I could up 
the Olympian staircase. 

" Here's where we sleep." She 
spoke indifferently. 
68 



My Ragpicker 

I looked down. The boards 
were unsteady; great cracks 
yawned between, and numerous 
knotholes served as convenient 
passages of communication for 
certain lean specimens of rats 
that vanished on our appearance. 
I looked up. The steep-pitched 
roof was behung with masses of 
dusty cobweb that swept to and 
fro with the light stirring of the 

air occasioned by our eutrance 

shifting, swinging just above our 
heads like the gauze curtains in 
a spectacular piece. 

I looked around. Here and 
there was a pile of burlap once 
used for packing rags, now con- 
verted into beds. That was all ; 
69 



My Ragpicker 

but it was getting too close for 
me in the uncanny hole; either 
the air or my thoughts were 
sufEocating me, and going to one 
of the two windows that admitted 
what of light and air there was, 
I flung it up and looked out. 

Well, I thought I knew Paris 
from every coign of vantage; 
khew her aspects in all her moods 
and tenses of starlight, moon- 
light, sunlight, dawn and twi- 
light; but never before had I 
seen the city of my adoption 
shaking o£E the morning mists 
like some godling Apollo bursting 
from hia swaddling-clothes, and 
rising fair, shining, golden into 
the clear radiance of an hour-old 
60 



My Ragpicker 

sun! And over all towered the 
majestic form of Notre Dame, 
guarding like a titaness Themis of 
old the divine nursling at her 
feet. 

" Nanette, look ! " I cried. 

The girl was close beside me. 
I turned to look at her, and 
again I caught the rapt expres- 
sion of devotion in her eyes. 

"Yes, monsieur; I've seen it 
these many years. See, I sleep 
here on this pile under the win- 
dow, and have only to lift my 
head and look out when I want 
her help." 

" Hers ? Whose ? " 

"Our Lady's," she answered 
softly, and for a moment the old 
61 



My Ragpicker 

look of content relaxed the tense 
lines about her mouth. It was 
momentary only. 

I was baffled, and realized for 
the first time why we men were 
not made mothers. I wanted to 
help, comfort, save her, if possi- 
ble, but knew not how, and 
actually groaned aloud over my 
impotence. The sound startled 
her; but I took her hands in 
mine — ^not exactly the scenic set- 
ting for a display of sentiment, 
but the very one for a little outlay 
of sensibility, were a man not 
whoUy a brute; you see I dis- 
tinguish between the two. 

"Can I help you, Nanette? 
You know I am your friend,' 
62 



>» 



My Ragpicker 



it 



I know, monsieur, but there 
is no help"; there was an echo 
in her voice of those twin cries 
of despair that haunted me so; 
" no help— none — except from 
" she choked. 

" From whom ? " I asked half 
in suspense, half in fear of — I 
don't know exactly. 

She returned me a silent answer, 
eloquent indeed for one who pos- 
sessed the key to this mystery, 
but to me as enigmatical as this 
ragpicker waif of humankind with 
a soul. Leaning far out of the 
window, she stretched forth her 
hands towards Notre Dame with 
a supplicating gesture more path- 
etic than words, and stood so, 
63 



My Ragpicker 

motionless, for fully a minute 
while great tears welled in her 
eyes and overflowed upon her 
cheeks. Suddenly her arms 
dropped Ufelessly ; we heard the 
rumble of donkey-carts below in 
the blind alley. 

, " I must go now, monsieur ; 
there is the work to be done." 
She spoke impassively, and in 
silence I followed her down the 
ladder and out into the alley. 
At the entrance to the court she 
turned. 

"Three turns to the right, 
monsieur ; three to the left, then 
across to the right by the cattle- 
market, and so on down the alley 
into the Place du Danube." 
64 






My Ragpicker 

This was my dismissal. She 
left me to find my way out as best 



I could while 



the 



expenencmg 
emotions of Daedalus. 

I was far from satisfied, but 
what could I do? I feared — 
you know what; and as my 
faith in human nature has never 
been unbounded, I confess that 
the girl's actions reduced it to a 
minimum. Of course I attempted 
to extend our acquaintance a 
week longer, but each morning 
found Nanette with less appetite 
and an increased monosyllabic 
tendency in her conversation — 
a pregnant sign with your true 
Parisian that she is at variance 
with the world in general and 



i ' 



My Ragpicker 

herself in particular. To speak 
frankly, I was not sorry when 
business called me for the summer 
to the Riviera. The whole affair 
was a ball that would unravel 
itself, if what I imagined was 
true; if not, I had the clue to 
her habitat, at least, and for the 
rest— what was a ragpicker to me T 
What is that you say, Cupi- 
don ?— Did I lose all remembrance 
of her? What a question ! How 
could I ? From time to time a 
droop of the eyelids, a curve of 
the lips, the glint of the clustering 
curls in the sunshine on the Pont 
de TArcheveche, the exquisite pose 
of the hand on her breast, the 
hands themselves, found their way 
66 



My Ragpicker 

into the picture of the Virgin and 
Child upon which I was at work. 
In fact, I was trying continually 
to catch the look on her face as, 
leaning far out of the window in 
the; old loft, she stretched out 
both hands towards Our Lady. 
It was the look of a " tired child* 
yearning towards its mother's 
anns." 

You want to know whether I 
was successful? Turn the can- 
vas there, Cupidon—this way a 
Kttle; there you have it. What- 
ever of best there is in mother 
and child is Nanette's, not mine. 
You see my curbstone acquaint- 
ance proved capital for me in a 
way. 

67 




My Ragpicker 

It was force of habit, perhaps 
■—perhaps not— that caused me 
on my return to fling open the 
shutters at the unheard-of hour 
of five in the morning. Sure 
enough, my eyes were greeted with 
the same living picture as before, 
not an unwelcome one, as I have 
had occasion to assure you. At 
the sound, she ^'fted her head ; 
there was a quick upward glance, 
an entrancing smile, and the 
accompanying merry voice: 



t( 



ilMj 



Good-morning, Monsieur Wel- 
come-with-the-sun ! " 

Before returning her greeting, 
my sharp glance scanned her from 
the crown of her head to the 
68 



hi! 



m ' 



y Ragpicker 

soles of her feet. My eyes did 
not deceive me; my fears had 
been ungrounded, and my rag- 
picker was again "content with 
her lot." I confess I experienced 
a momentary, if purely masculine, 
pang that the gutter should have 
been able thus to assert ilielf 
without the aid of the ground 
floor— risen above it, indeed, for 
had not my most profound philo- 
sophy been faced down by a 
single fact, that of contentment 
in the face of experience ? 

It was not long before we were 
seated as usual at our petty 
restaurateur's whose endless tor- 
rent of congratulation served, in 
a measure, to hide the exuberant 
69 



I 



4- 



Hi 



I 



My Ragpicker 

philanthropy of the ground floor 
and the supreme satisfaction of 
the gutter. Coffee, rolls and cheese 
were devoured with their old-time 
avidity. We chatted and laughed, 
nor, when the meal was finished, 
. was my ragpicker in any hurry to 
depart. 

"Now, tell me, Nanette, are 
you still contented with your 
lot?" In consideration of the 
abundant repast I ventured to 
ask her. 

"Oh, monsieur ! "—flhe seized 
my hand in hers and I awaited 
with intense interest the repetition 
of a former experience as an 
expression of her gratitude—" I 
am so happy, so content! IVe 
70 



i I 



My Ragpicker 

been made 'roiileure* this week, 
andLinsprehas given me a donkey - 
cart and a white bulldog. Oh, but 
you must see them, monsieur ! " 
She flung aside my hand and 
caught up her pick. 

I was confused; actually brought 
into unstable equilibrium by this 
explanation of her happiness. 
"Good heavens!" I thought, 
" is life worth living to be made 
such a shuttlecock of by a tricksy 
Paris ragpicker!" But aloud 
I said somewhat severely — ^for 
I was vexed with myself for hav- 
ing wasted sentiment on a girl 
who could so far forget the misery 
she had been in, or at least find 
alleviation for it by means of 
71 



i 



I 



I 1 



li 

I! 

If 

if - 
ijl 



My Ragpicker 

the gift of a donkey and a white 
buUdog ("Ass!" so I prefaced 
my remark, but I was cursing a 
pessimistical biped) : — 
"You were not so contented 
, always, Nanette ; how was 
that T " 

Instantly the light in her face 
was quenched; my extinguisher 
proved effectual, and I took cour- 
age. 

"And who is this Linspre ? " 
I demanded with additional sever- 
ity; the vacant sensation on 
the back of my hand intuitively 
warned me that the anticipated 
kiss had been held in reserve for 
the donor of the white bull- 
dog. 

72 



My Ragpicker 



(( 



Monsieur," she said with a 
dignity and gentle womanliness 
to which I could but render hom- 
age, " I could not tell you then ; 
you could not have helped me — 

no one could but Our " She 

hesitated. "You are my friend, 
monsieur, and I will tell you so 
gladly all — ^all, monsieur, do you 
understand what that means ? 
What no one else knows but you 
—and Linspre." The last word 
broke on her lips in a happy 
smile. 

" But when, where, how, Nan- 
ette?" I urged. This was my 
opportunity. She considered a 
moment. 

This evening, monsieur, under 
73 



(( 



(31 

II 

i If 



llh 

liffi 



My Ragpicker 

tte trees by the little fountain, 
tte rtone one, in the Buttes- 
Chanmont park J you know where 

it 18." 

Nanette ? " I waa ^n^^, t 

^ -I was eager, I assure 

you; I could scarcely have be- 
Wed It of an incorrigible pessi- 
mist like myself. 

"Honour bright, monsieur." 
She dropped me a mock curtsey 
and shouldered her sack, remark- 
ing as she did so :— 

T 7n\*^^ ^^'* ^^^ ' to-morrow 
1 shall have my donkey-cart." 

IViends, I've lost the knack of 
praymg. IVe not had a prayer 
on my lips since those days in 
74 




My Ragpicker 

Provence when my young mother, 
scarce remembered now, taught 
me one on her knee with kisses 
for punctuation. But this I know : 
—for that hour, at least, while I 
listened to Nanette under the 
acacias in the park, my "soul 
was on its knees." 

Art ! Let the scribblers strain 
their rhetoric in search of it, 
and the whole Beaux Arts seek 
it, if they will, in the Salon or the 
Louvre— blind leaders of the blind ! 
Art is divinity, understood right- 
ly; its expression is humanity, 
and I say : Seek there, if ye will 
find. 

Yes, yes, Cupidon; you have 
been patient and I am done; 
75 



lATTvra 



I 



t 1 



My Ragpicker 

the rest is Nanette's. When I 
think of it there is little to teU. 

"Monsieur, I will tell you all 
that you may understand all." 

This was Nanette's prelude out 
under the acacias in the park the 
other evening. 

"One day, on the Boulevard 
Montmartre, I found myself, as 
you found me, monsieur, standing 
beside a pile of rags. I remember 
how smaU I felt beside it and 
how cold I was. I was picking 
out a few bits of mouldy bread 
that, by chance, I found in it, 
and thinking to get away before 
any one should see me. It was 
hardly light. Of a sudden, a 
76 



I iW 



My Ragpicker 

heavy hand was laid on my 
shoulder and I was snatched u vvay 
with as little care as I would fling 
an old shoe into the sack. I 
was in the hands of a * rouleure ' 
and I screamed with fright. The 
woman shook me till my tongue 
was bitten between ray teeth, 
and I spat blood. She stopped 
then. This was my meeting, mon- 
sieur, with Madame Racineau, and 
her first wcwds were : — 

" * Who are you, vagabond ? * 
" * I don't know,' I sobbed ; 
I was shaking with pain and 
fright. 

"'Who are you, little liar? 
Where's your mother ? * 

Monsieur, I had never heard 

n 



(( 



My Ragpicker 

that word. She turned to a gen- 
da^e my screams had brought 
to the spot. ^ 

"* Where's the mare to this 
foal? she demanded. The man 
shrugged his shoulders and passed 

. "^I'inspr^!' she screamed; 

where are you?' An ugly enough 
lad came at her caU, and at si^t 
of bm I cried the harder. 

* Here; she said, and for aU 
X l^now she flung me over to him 

T't ^^"^ P^«^^' I found myself 
in his arms. 

"'Take the gutter-rat home 
with you and set her to gnawing 
resm. IfU be two hands the 
more, and I know by the shape 

78 ^ 



My Ragpicker 

they're nimble. As for the sack ' 
—here she laid her hands with 
an^ ugly leer over her stomach— 
*it's not yet half grown, so little 
wiU fiU it. Off with you, in the 
devil's name.' 

" I remember all this, monsieur, 
but nothing more till I found 
myself in that same comer of the 
shed I showed you last spring, 
scratching off resin from broken 
bottle-necks. My hands were 
bleeding; my flesh was tender; it 
hardened soon enough. 

" After that, I don't remember 
much but that I worked month 
m, month out, through heat and 
cold. My food was flung to me 
with that of the dogs, and many 
79 



^^^WW^^^^bm^m^ 






My Ragpicker 

a time I choked ofE the smaller 
curs from their morsel that I 
might eke out the day with less 
hunger. The few sous I earned 
went to fill Madame Racineau's 
, wallet. The ' black wolf ' we 
called her, for she was a terror 
to us all except Linspr6. She 
called him * apprentice,' that's 
the same as overseer, and he 
said his say and went his way, 
when he pleased. 

"I slept in the loft, when I 
was not lying awake faint from 
hunger, or crying for fear of the 
rats. * Gutter-rat ' she had called 
me, and I was not old enough to 
feel sure I was not of their kin. 
But after a time that fear, too, 
80 



^iv 




•I used to kneel by Jhe window with my eye, fixed on 
Our Lai/ 

[Set- page 8j, 



(( 



My Ragpicker 

was gone. Another took its place. 
I remember it only as a long night- 
mare-they have told me since 
It was war— but there came a 
tmie when the rats were sold for 
food, and I starved. How many 
days I can't say. The very dogs, 
monsieur, went to the butcher's, 
and there was not a crumb in the 
establishment, for no longer were 
any rags brought in. I remember 
I chewed a little resin I found on 
an old flask, and then I think I 
must have gone mad with thirst. 
I was in the loft when I came to 
my senses, on the burlap under 
the window. It was night. I 
clung to the sill, raised myself 
and hung out my head. I was 
81 




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1653 Eoit Main Street 

Roctiester. New York 14609 USA 

(716) +82 -0300 -Phone 

(716) 288- 5989 -Fox 




i 



i-l 



;i; : 



My Ragpicker 

gasping for breath. There, mon- 
sieur, leaning so, dizzy and sick 
from hunger, I saw for the first 
time Our Lady of Paris. 

" There was a buzzing in my 
ears ; a roaring in my head ; I 
can't tell how it was. I only 
know that from the hills beyond 
the river other roars mixed with 
those in my ears, and flashes of 
fire, longer and broader than the 
sparkles that kept dropping before 
my eyes, tore their way through 
the sky and smoke clouds kept 
floating up, and settling down 
before me. It was all so confused. 
The only thing plain to me was 
that great form rising out of the 
smoke into the moonlight and 

89 



My Ragpicker 

stretching up its two arms as if to 
bring down help for all of us. 

" From that moment I loved her, 
monsieur; and when, a little 
while after — ^whether a day or 
days I do not know — the roaring 
from beyond the river ceased and 
there was bread again — ^nof 
enough, but it broke the hunger, 
I used to kneel there by the 
window and eat my portion with 
my eyes fixed on Our Lady. 

"I was never let to roam. 
The * black wolf * kept me close. 
I was too young, too afraid to 
venture much; but when she 
died, Linspre gave us a day off, 
for he was head of the busi- 
ness. 

83 



n\ 



i!. 



in' 



11 
I 



Iff 



My Ragpicker 

"I started out then to find 
Notre Dame. I knew I could 
find it somewhere, somehow. I 
found myself, after hours and 
hours, in a park with children 
other than I had ever seen coming 
and going, free as air. I heard 
them calling : — * Mamma, mam- 
ma, come here ! See this, dear 
mamma ! ' I looked and listened 
till I could bear it no longer; 
then I crept away under the 
bushes with a hunger in my heart 
worse,, monsieur, than any I had 
had in those nightmare days, for 
I kept hearing their shouts : — 
* Mamma, mamma ! ' I sobbed 
myself to sleep. 

"I must have lain there two 
84 



My Ragpicker 

or three hours, for when I awoke 
it was near sunset, and I was very 
hungry. In m/ hurry to get 
away from the sheds I had not 
taken my portion with me, and 
since morning t\ere had been 
added this hunger in my heart. 
"I left the park, wandering 
on and on, never tiring, for all 
was so new and strange that I 
half forgot why I was there at all. 
Night was coming on and, some- 
how, I had to get back to the 
Buttes-Chaumont. I pressed my 
face against a restaurant window 
and tried to believe I was eating 
with the women who were talking 
and laughing at Uttle round tables 
that shone so under the lights; 
86 




My Ragpicker 

but I only drooled on the pane. 
I sat down in a doorway to watch 
the crowds of people. I won- 
dered, like the child I was, where 
all the rags came from when 
every one was so well dressed. I 
remember it had grown so dark 
that a flutter of white from the 
pocket of a woman's coat caught 
my eye. — ^Do you know, monsieur, 
I think people steal sometimes 
without knowing it ? It was 
only a flip-flap of white, but it was 
like a clutch at my empty stomach. 
I sprang forward ; crept close to 
the woman's side; took the bit 
of lace between my thumb and 
forefinger — ^but, oh, monsieur ! 
I got no farther. The goose- 
86 



I! ' ■ 



My Hagpicker 

flesh rose all over my body. I 
thought I heard a voice ; I think 
now I did: — 

" * Take it Nanette ; it is only 
a rag in the end.' 

" I turned c.round half crazed 
with fright at what I knew not. 
I looked about, then up, and there 
— oh, monsieur, can I ever forget 
it ! — ^there across the square, her 
great arms uplifted as if to fall 
and crush me, stood Our Lady ! 

" I had strength only to hide 
my face in my hands ; then some 
one took me in his arms, and 
Linspre, for it was he, monsieur, 
ppoke, and his voice sounded hoarse 
and fierce ; I remember wishing 
it bounded as his arms felt: — 
87 



I 



My Ragpicker 

" * Eh, Nanette, lagging thus 
after dark ? It's time you were 
back. Come with me.' 

" Once in the loft, I hid in the 
burlap, not daring to raise my 
head lest I should see Our Lady ; 
and so, without the comfort of 
a morsel, I lay there half waking 
until dawn. My God! \^Tiat 
have I not suffered, monsieur ! . . ." 
My friends, her voice broke 
there for the first time, and she 
sobbed helplessly for full a 
minute before she could speak. 

" Monsieur," she continued, " I 
can't help crying over the child 
that I was. Had I been fed even, 
the misery had scarcely been 
less ; for that hunger in my hei.rt 
88 



My Ragpicker 

kept gnawing, gnawing, day in, 
day out— no rest, no rest; and 
always the sound of that word, 
mamTia, in my ears. I had no 
mother, could have none. The 
thought was a long sickness, and 
I shunned the streets for fear of 
hearing the like again, and stole 
away to the loft after work was 
done to find what comfort I could 
in looking at Notre Dame, for 
we were friends again. Our Lady 
and I. 

" Two years ago. Monsieur Jean 
advanced me to * sorter.' Lins- 
pre is only his nickname; it 
means ' prince,' you know. I had 
but little to do with him. He 
paid me with the rest; never 
89 



8 !ll 



iJ 



1 






<i m 



My Ragpicker 

found fault, but never praised; 
no word for or against. He left 
me alone, and I was glad enough, 
for he was strict with the others, 
" A year ago he sent me out on 
a * beat ' for two weeks. * Just 
to get your hand in,' he said. My 
station was in front of a hotel, and 
often in the early morning hours 
there were carriages coming and 
going filled, so I was told, with 
the world tbat works at play 
nights, and sleeps days. Once, 
searching with my lantern about 
the pile I flashed it full upon a 
woman who had just got down 
from her carriage and was enter- 
ing the hotel. It was then I 
dropped my pick, monsieur. She 
90 



PSfiif- 



My Rstgpicker 

was so beautiful ! The street 
seemed darker when the door shut 
upon her. A few mornings after 
that, I found a jewelled collar- 
stud caught in a strip of flimsy 
tulle. I felt sure it belonged to 
her — ^to her, and no other. I 
find many a shirt-stud or cuff- 
button now, but that was my 
fi^t. It's a point of honour with 
us ragpickers never to keep a 
*find.' and I was glad of the 
chance to tell Monsieur Jean 
about it He let me off early in 
the afternoon, and I w-^t back 
to the hotel with it. I feifcowed it 
to the concierge. Did .*l^« think 
it belonged to ker, tbt «• tifui 
woman ? I asked. 
91 



My Ragpicker 

" * Yea, to be sure.* 

" * Then I will give it to her 
mjBelf / I said ; and the woman 
let me have my way. I found 
the one I wa; seeking on the sec- 
ond floor, bne was so pleased; 
I saw that by her face. 

" * What do you want for it, 

little ? * She was going to say 

something else, I don't know 
what, but stopped short, biting 
her lip to keep from laughing. 

" She was tall and fair, monsieur. 
Her blue eyes laughed down into 
mine, and her voice sounded so 
sweet, so gay, that I took courage 
to ask for that for which, at that 
moment, I would have given my 
life. She could not know — ^how 
.92 



My Ragpicker 

conld she ? — iihat the hnngw in 
r-7 heart was leaping to my lipe. 
1 thought if I could kibs her once, 
jUBt once, e^ those children Idssed 
their mother in the park, that the 
hanger of those years would pass 
away. I could scarcely speak; 
my tongue stuck to *hb roof of 
my mouth ; but x said at 
last: — 
" * I want to kiss you, madame.' " 
Comrades, I am convinced that 
a woman's nature is always dor- 
mant volcanic, its deepest depths 
always stirring, seething, glowing, 
ready for action; yet enduring, 
thickly encrusted with the graces 
of so-called civilization, awaiting 
some unbearable surcharge of emo- 
98 




Ml 



My Ragpicker 

tion before venting its disruptive 
power of passion. 

Thus far, Nanette had spoken 
quietly, with little apparent effort 
and without interruption save 
for the tears she had shed at 
first. But at those last words, 
she sprang to her feet and walked 
rapidly back and forth before me. 
Her hands were clenched; her 
nostrils dilated. She broke forth 
incoherently, rapidly; her voice 
shook as if shivered on the lance 
of her wrathful speech: — 

"And they dare call them- 
selves mothers ! These women 
who give suck and yet have no 
drop of human kindness in their 
white breasts they so love to 
H 



My Ragpicker 

show ! They dare even to call 
themselves women — ^these crea- 
tm'es who, with hearts of flesh and 
blood like ours, can only feel for 
their puling lapdogs ! Why did 
she not kill me then and there ? 
She might as well, as to answer 
as she did. 

" What think you, monsieur ? 
Was she a woman or a she-devil 
that could stand there, smiling 
down at me, a young thing 
starving for love, and, shrugging 
her shoulders, draw away from 
me as if I had come from the 
pest-house, sajdng in her gay 
voice : — 

" ' Oh, anything but that, child ! 
Here, give her this.' She mo- 
95 



H 



/ 



¥l 



My Ragpicker 

tioned to her maid who pressed a 
franc piece into my hand. 

"How I got out I don't know; 
I found my way to the street 
somehow. 

" ' Go ycu to the devil ! ' mut- 
tered the concierge as I pushed 
past her, and I laughed back:— 
"'Yes, yes— I'm going fast 
enough.' I meant what I said. 
" There was a burning spot on 
the palm of my hand; it was 
the silver piece. I flung the 
cursed thing far from me; I 
heard it clink on the stones, and 
the sound eased me. I could 
walk more steadily after hearing 
it, and I went on to the river. 
I knew well enough when I was 
96 






My Ragpicker 

near the cathedral. I did not 
mean to look up, but I could 
not help it. I would look once, 
just once, I said to myseli, 
just once before 

" Monsieur, can stones speak ? 
What made my eyes grow wet as 
I looked and my heart beat in 
my throat ? Why did I pass in 
with the crowd at the open door 
over the threshold of which I 
had never dared to step ? Why 
did I do this when my will was 
to do the other ? Can you tell ? 
I can't. 

"I found myself in an empty 

space ; I clung fast to one of the 

stone pillars, wetting it with my 

tears; I pressed my lips to it. 

97 Q 



My Ragpicker 

Then, at last, I was content. I 
knew that I, too, had a mother 
whose stones would prove a safer 
restin^r-place for my aching head 
than the white breasts of those 
other-world women from whom 
I was set apart, and to whom I 
could not belong. I was content 
for the first time in my life that 
I remember. I felt I could bear 
anything after that. When I 
should again be hungry in my 
heart, I knew I had a mother to 
bid me live and not despair. 

" I could scarcely wait for the 
spring when I was to be made 
ragpicker. To be out in the world 
with the rest ; to go and come 
in the sunshine ; to see Our Lady 
98 






My Ragpicker 

every day ; to go to her for help 
when I pleased. I found you, 
too, monsieur, and I was so happy, 
so content when you first Imew 
me, so grateful for aU you did for 
me. I felt it was a poor reward 
to show you in any way that, 
little by little, the content was 
slipping away. I tried not to 
show it ; but you asked me that 
question in the porch of Notre 
Dame, you remember, and that 
word, 'mother,' set every limb 
to trembling and my heart to 
aching with the old-time hunger. 
I rushed away from you and hid 
"^self down by the arches of one 
the lower bridges, and spent 
myself with sobbing 'mother, 
99 



.V 



k 



'■/ 






My Ragpicker 

mother.' And at last, when I 
could cry over myself no longer, 
I fell to crying afresh over the 
lambs I heard bleating in the 
slaughter-house yonder. I was 
like them. 

"Do I tire you, monsieur?" 
she asked suddenly, seating her- 
self beside me and questioning 
me with her eyes. 

" Tire me," I said ; " what put 
that into your head, Nan- 
ette ? " 

" You look tired, monsieur. I 
would not have told you all this 
only — ^you asked- 



»> 



(( 



Yes, yes, I know, Nanette ; 
and if I look tired it is only be- 
cause I have a headache, perhaps 
100 



My Ragpicker 

a wee heartache — for the lambs, 
and the continuation of your 
story is the only cure for it. 
You see, Nanette, I am just 
beginning to understand." 

"Are you, monsieur?" The 
moonlight brightened her happy 
smile. " Then I will tell you the 
rest." 

The truth is, friends, life was 
revealing itself to me on a side 
that, hitherto, had been in total 
eclipse so far as I was concerned, 
and the strain was telling on me. 
But for her, on the other hand, 
life, as it had until then been 
viewed by me, would also have 
had its adumbrations; so how 
was I to enlighten her as to the 
101 



^' 



My Ragpicker 

real cause of my apparent weari- 
11888 ? A master metaphysician 
might possibly find himself in 
such case on the horns of a 
dilemma none the softest. 

During the remainder of the 
recital, the girl sat quietly beside 
me, her hands clasping her knees ; 
and, but for the touch of ^hite 
on her knuckles, I siovid not 
have realized there was much 
effort for control. Eer voice, 
grown monotonously even, sank 
at times almost to a whisper as 
she parted the veil of her holy of 
holies and showed me — a woman's 
soul aflame upon its altar. 



(( 



Monsieur, one day in spring, 
102 



My Ragpicker 

a few weeks before you took me 
out into the country for tbat 
afternoon, I found a long piece 
of tulle in the rag-heap. There 
wap yard upon yard of it, little 
used. I saved it ; and the next 
morning went to work a little 
earlier that I might have time 
afterwards to myself down by one 
of the bridges. 

" It was just about sunrise ; 
the fog had lifted a little from 
the river, but tio one could see 
me from above. I heard the 
washerwomen laughing on the 
other side of the arch, but neither 
could they see me. On my side, 
by the landing-place, the water 
was smooth. I took off my blouse 
103 



I' 



i 



My Ragpicker 

and tied it by thi sleeves around 
me under my arms. Then I took 
the tulle and wound it around 
my head and wrapped my neck 
and arms in it; there was yard 
upon yard of it, little used. Then 
I leaned over and looked into the 
river. I wanted to see, mon- 
sieur, if I could look like the 
figure of the woman with the 
child in her arms that I had seen 
so often in the cathedral. She, 
too, had tulle on her head. I 
kept looking. What I saw there 
in the river pleased me. I heard 
nothing — ^not even the washer- 
women. I looked and looked till 
the face down there blurred, and 
the roughening of the water made 



*! 



My Ragpicker 

me look up. There was a man 
in a boat just under the arch. 
He was at work with something ; 
I could not tell what it was. 
But when he looked up, he sang 
out to me : — 

" * For the love of God, little 
one, don't move ! Be quiet — 
look into the river again — don't 
stir — there, now, just a minute — 
wait ! ' 

" I did just as he told me, mon- 
sieur — looked into the water an-^ 
did not know why I did it, foi 
there was nothing to see. I 
looked until I couldn't see even 
the water, and the first thing I 
knew a boat shot up to the land- 
ing-steps right under my nose, 
105 



' 



:! 



1 



My Ragpicker 

and the man held up a large piece 
of paper. 

Look there, my little queen, 
queen of heaven that you are ! ' 
"That's what he said, mon- 
aieur, and he held it away off, for, 
' near to, it was all blurred as if 
the roughening of the water had 
shaken his hand ; and I saw on 
the paper a face in the water— the 
face I had seen in the river, or 
the face of that figure I had seen 
in Our Lady ; I could not tell 
which. I only knew it was beau- 
tiful. 

"He was just as kind as you 

are, monsieur. He turned his 

back while I tore off the tuUe and 

flung into my blouse. I was sure 

106 



I » 

1- 

r, 
if 
d 

Q 

B 

r 

1 



My Ragpicker 

it was I, myself, when I felt the 
rag-sack between my shoulders. 
Then he asked me, just as you 
did, monsieur, to get a bite with 
him as it was so early; but I 
was afraid I was late, and dared 
not stay. He asked me to come 
again at sunset. He said it would 
help him in his work, and I pro- 
mised him— how could I help it ? 
— ^when he spoke so to me, not 
as you, monsieur, with all your 
kindness, have ever spoken, as if 
he could not do without me. I 
promised to meet him again there 
at sunset; and because I did 
that once, I wanted to twice — 
thrice 

" I went again and again ; at 
107 



I 






My Ragpicker 

sunset, at midnight, whenever he 
wanted me, I was there. I could 
not help it. There were such 
feasts on the river. He used to 
take me out in the boat and make 
my face aU ways, once with the 
' moonlight on it and once with 
the sunset full in my eyes. He 
promised me so much in his gay 
voice : — * No more hunger ; no 
more rags, rags and cold.' 

"He promised me more, for I 
had told him of that hunger in 
my heart — ^how I had no mother, 
could have none ; and out there 
on the river he told me that if I 
could not have a mother, I could, 
at least, be one — ^that was the 
next best thing — and hold my 
108 



Pi 



My Ragpicker 

child in my arms like the beau- 
tiful figure in Our Lady; my 
child and his child, he said. I 
suppose you know all these things, 
monsieur, but he said much I 
could not understand ; it was 
enough to hear his voice when he 
said it. He wanted me to go 
away and live with him some- 
where down the river, and for 
good ; but I told him it would be 
a point of honour to tell Monsieur 
Jean, and you, monsieur; that 
I would go after I had told you 
both. He was angry then, and 
would not ask me to come again 
for days and days. It was then 
I was so miserable ; it was then 
you asked me that question out 
109 



( 



My Ragpicker 

there in the porch of Notre Dame, 
and that ' word ' set me to think- 
ing : something was not all right. 
After I ran away from you, I went 
back to Our Lady, and when I 
found you were gone, I went in 
and knelt by the figure of the 
woman with the child in her 
arms ; I kept saying that * word ' 
over and over; I thought it 
might help me. 

" I tried to tell Monsieur Jean 
that night ; but he put me o£E, 
and of the women I dared not ask. 

"One night, after you had 
gone away, monsieur, I ^^ad been 
out with him on the river. It 
was late when I left him; the 
bells were ringing midnight when 
110 



e, 
k- 
t. 
It 
I 
in 
le 

» 
it 



My Ragpicker 

I crossed the Pont de rArchevech^, 
and I dared not go back to the 
Buttes-Chaumont for fear of the 
women in the loft. So I hurried 
on to Notre Dame. I crept into 
the shadow of the great walls on 
the river side. 

"The night was warm, but I 
shook with cold or burned with 
fever. My teeth chattered; a 
hundred hammers seemed pound- 
ing against my eyeballs. There 
was a rushing as of water in my 
ears ; the bells rang out so loud it 
seemed as if the whole city must 
hear :— * No more rags, Nanette, 
rags and cold, hunger and cold.' 
There was no rest for me so near 
the cathedral. 

Ill 



My Ragpicker 



tt 



I bore it as long as I could, 
then, just before daybreak, as the 
mist began to lift from the river, 
I dragged myself back to the 
spot I had left at midnight. A 
foolish thought: he might still 
be there, led me on ; but instead, 
I found three men — ^you know 
the kind, monsieur, that drag the 
Seine with their nets — ^hard at 
work. I could not leave them 
until I had seen It ! A fear was 
upon me ; I was afraid ; who 
could know what might have 
happened since midnight ? He 
had asked so much of me, and I 
had denied him all, nor knew 
why I did it when it was so iiard. 
As I stood there straining my 
112 




" I could not leave them until I had seen It. 



[.See fyag. 1:2. 



it 



My Ragpicker 

eyes to watch them pull in the 
net, I heard them talking to- 
gether : — 

"*ls it a good haul? 'said 
one. 

"*Sacre— no; it's a double- 
catch,' said another. 

" * One of the dabster's dolls ; 
the harpies saw her hanging about 
here last night watching the little 
paint-pot who was baiting another 
over there by the bridge— young 
fry, this tune,' said a third, with 
a laugh from which I would have 
fled had not that weighted net 
held me there with feet of lead. 
I grew sick and faint at the words, 
for I was beginning to under- 
stand, monsieur. 

113 R 



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My Ragpicker 

" * There's no luck with them,' 
said one. 

" * H6 ! but there is, though.' 
The first one laughed under his 
breath. I leaned nearer through 
the fog. I could just see the face, 
a woman's, beneath the water. 
The min reached in and clutched 
a bit of gold about the neck. 

" * Hands off ! ' he muttered, 
as the others landed the net. 
* Might's right this time.' He 
gave them a look from which 
they shrank away like whipped 
curs. 

" I crept nearer and looked 
again at the ' double-catch.' Mon- 
sieur — ^how can I tell you ? — I 
understood then : the woman had 
114 



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My Ragpicker 

not waited to be a mother. I 
looked again as they held the 
lantern close to her ears and hands 
■—I had seen that face before! 
But where ? I put my hand to 
my head for something was swim- 
ming in the fog before my eyes ; 
those lips were parting, mon- 
sieur, parting and smiling. I 
heard a voice, gay and sweet :— 
'Oh, anything but that, child.' 
And I trembled with a fierce joy, 
for I knew that the woman before 
me was none other than she who 
had helped to starve me, by 
denying me that kiss and by her 
scorn of what I was ; and that 
thus, at last, she had come to be 
the grave of her own child ! 
116 



III! 



Hhi 



My Ragpicker 



(( 



I turned fiend, monsieur, and 
was glad at the sight. 

" The man was prying open the 
gold locket with his jack-knife. 
Seven devils possessed me to see. 
I went closf up behind him. I 
looked again aa he held it in the 
light of the lantern. 

"* That's the same,* he said. 
He pryed out the picture with 
the point of the blade, but not 
before I had had a good look at 
it, monsieur, and flipped it far 
out into the river. 

" * To the devil,' he muttered. 
He pocketed the case. 

"Monsieur, I had had one 
glimpse — ^how can I tell you ? — 
even now that it is past — ^I have 
116 



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My Ragpicker 

no words — of him who had pro- 
mised me all, AUI This, then, 
V, us what it meant ! Oh , I under- 
stood, I understood all — no need 
for more. 

" * Fool, fool ! ' I shrieked. I 
was crazed. I fled along the 
embankment; up the steps; along 
the quai, over the bridge, shriek- 
ing * Fool, fool I ' at every turn. 
As I passed the morgue, I thought 
I heard the dead mocking me 
with their weak voices: — 

" * No more rags, poor fool — 
no more hunger and cold — ^pain- 
ter's tool, poor fool ! ' 

" I ran as one runs in a night- 
mare: long leaps into nothing; 
gasping breaths of air thick and 
117 



iHExnv fismnime: ^#' 



My Ragpicker 

hot as melted resin. I was trying 
to shriek louder and louder to 
drown those voices of the dead, 
yet I knew I made no sound. 
The houses fell on me without 
crushing me. The streets opened 
like traps to trip me. The gut- 
ters were rivers through which I 
tried in vain to swim ; I sank 
deeper with every struggle. I 
fell at last in the blind alley by 
the sheds, and knew no more. 

" The women told rae ^tftir- 
wards that Monsieur Jean found 
me and took me into his house ; 
but when, at last, I opened my 
eyes, I was in my old place in the 
loft, but not on the burlap. I 
tried to lift my head to look at 
118 



My Ragpicker 



Our Lady, but there was no 
strength in me. Night and morn- 
ing a woman brought me warm 
milk and fruit. When I asked 
who sent ifc, she placed her finger 
on her lips: — *Hush.* I dared 
not ask again. After a little I 
could lean out of the window 
into the sun and air ; in another 
week I crawled down into the 
shed to thank Monsieur Jean ; 
but he took no thanks. 

" * You'll be out again, soon, 
and make up for lost time, eh ? ' 
That was all he said, and turned 
his back on me before I could 
answer. Lost time! I had been six 
weeks in the loft, the women said. 
In a few days I shouldered 
119 



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my pick and btarted for Rue 
LafEitte, but the fever was still in 
my bones and they ached so that 
I had to give it up ; I was glad 
enough to get into Our Lady's 
without having dropped but twice 
to the pavement on the way. I 
dragged myself along from pillar 
to pillar, and when I came to a 
dark corner sank down on my 
sack. I must have lain there and 
slept all day, for when I awoke 
and looked about me it was no 
longer dark. The sun was shining 
against the round windows and 
all the place was running with 
different colours like the Seine, 
monsieur, when a rainbow hangs 

over it. 

120 



My Ragpicker 



(( 



I got on to my knees in the 
shadow of the great stone pillar, 
but was too weak to stand ; so 
knelt by it, and, partly clasping 
it with my arms, pressed my ach- 
ing head against it again and 
again. Then there was a low 
call from somewhere : — 

"'Nanette, little Nanette.' I 
thought the very stones of Our 
Lady were speaking. I only clung 
the closer. 

" * Nanette, poor little heart, 
it's I, Linspre. You're not 
afraid ? ' 

"Afraid, monsieur, when his 
voice sounded as his armti felt 
that night in the square when I 
tried to steal ! 

121 




My Ragpicker 

"* Afraid!' I repeated. I 
laughed aloud in my joy. 

" Ho put his arms close about 
me, holding me closer and more 
close, till I cried upon his breast. 
Then he spoke : — 

" * You are mine, little one ; 
did you think I would leave you 
so alone ? — so all alone ? Nan- 
ette, I +?^1 you I love you, do you 
hear ? - >k up, I love you. Do 
you net jinow how near I have 
been to you always ? ' 

" Then I found voice, monsieur. 
* Always, Linspre, always?' I 
sobbed. 

" ' Yea, always, Nanette. Here 
— ^listen ! ' 

"He took my head with his 
122 



I i 



My Ragpicker 

hand and held it hard against his 
heart. 'Do you hear it now, 
Nanette ? ' he said. ' So it has 
throbbed for you since that morn- 
ing ten long years ago when the 
" black wolf " flung you upon it. 
Don't you remember ? ' 

" I could scarce hear the words, 
his heart beat so against my ear ; 
but I made some sign, for I 
understood. 

" * And that night on the 
square,' he went on, 'when I 
caught you away from sin — do 
you remember that too ? And 
that other night by the river 



CC ( 



Linspre ! " I almost 
screamed, for his voice was terri- 
123 



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My Ragpicker 

ble, monsieur, but he laid his 
hand upon my mouth : — 

*' ' Hush, hush ; fear naught — 
by the river, I say, when that 
painter-devil tried to blacken your 
white soul — I was with you then, 
I say, ready to save both you 
and me. See ! ' 

"He put his hand into his 
blouse and drew out a knife, 
monsieur, long and sharp. He 
held it out from the shadow of 
the pillar and twirled it in the 
red and blue lights. 

" ' For him, Linspre ? ' I could 
only whisper. 

" * Nay, nay, for you, little one, 
you first, then for me ! Never 
for him — ^the hell-hound was not 
124 



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My Ragpicker 

worth the blood-letting ; but for, 
you and me, we two together ' 

" * Linspre— you would not — 
have — Linspre, Linspre ! ' 

"I could say no more, mon- 
sieur; I broke down. He laid 
his cheek against mine and whis- 
pered : — 

"* Listen, Nanette, till I tell 
you how I have saiu these ten 
years: — " She is mine — ^mine alone ; 
but I will try her with hunger 
and cold. She shall freeze and 
starve, but her soul must be 
white. She shall love — tremble 
not, poor little heart — ay, love 
shall she till the fever bum out 
the sweet life if need be, but her 
soul must be white." I watched 
125 






i n 



My Ragpicker 

you by night and by day, for your 
honour was mine. And now — ' 
Oh, monsieur, how his voice rang 
in my ears ! — * now you have 
stood the test ; hunger and cold, 
fever and devil's fire you have 
withstood. Your body broken, 
3'our faet stumbling, so I found 
you in the blind alley and took 
you — ^home. Tell me, can you 
love this Linspre now ? * 

" Monsieur," — she leaned to me, 
— " let me whisper to you — I may 
tell you, for you alone have un- 
derstood : at that moment I felt 
that at last my mother had 
blessed me, and you may know 
my answer for to-morrow is my 
wedding day ! One thing more I 
126 



My Ragpicker 

may tell you:— Just as we were 
(going, Linspre took the knife, 
and, rolling it in the empty rag- 
sack, left it in the shadow of the 
pillar. 

See,' he said, * we will leave 
them here with Our Lady — she 
careth for all.' 

"Ah, he little knew how she 
cared — but you know ; you, too, 
understand now, don't you, mon- 
sieur ? " 

You may guess my answer, 
comrades. 

" Monsieur," her voice rang out 
joyfully upon the night— a pre- 
concerted signal, I fancy — "to- 
morrow is my wedding day ; you 
will come, yes ? " 
127 



r^^HSST^^Ty^SSm^^^^^^r 



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My Ragpicker 

"Come? Indeed I will, 
said, " lut wiiat will Linsprd- 
A low whistle sounded near 
us; the bells were ringing mid- 
night; Nanette started to her 
feet. 

" There he is now— I must go ; 
to-morrow then ! She waved 
her pick and aped down the 
path. 

Did I say that "my soul was 
on its knees ? " 

Well, it is a night for confession. 
I may say it to you, my friends, 
it will do you no harm : as I took 
my way slowly homewards in the 
early morning hours, I had leisure 
for many thoughts, many and 
curious ones. I lingered on the 
128 



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My Ragpicker 

Pont de TArchevech^, gazing at 
Notre Dame. True life, true art ; 
the wages of sin in the one as in 
the other— death ; and nothing 
less than immortality the reward 
— mark well — in art as in life, of 
honest purpose striving valiantly 
against discouragement, tempta- 
tion, misery, contempt, sin even, 
towards adequate fulfilment. Over 
yonder in the loft of the rag- 
pickers' hive lay little Nanette as 
pure as the moonlight touching 
the Seine at my feet. Here be- 
fore me towered the majestic pile, 
an eloquent Sinai, of human arti- 
sanship to be sure, but for that 
very reason honoured of the good 
God in that he had deigned to 
129 I 



i 



My Ragpicker 

thunder from its pinnacles for 
the salvation of one ragpicker's 

soul. 

My friends, you are young yet, 
and the nineteenth century is old, 
but twenty -five years from now 
when that order is reversed, you 
will think of my words when I 
say that, night before last, as I 
stood silent, thoughtful on the 
Pont de I'Archeveche, gazing at 
Notre Dame and pondering its 
influence on this waif of human- 
kind with a soul, I understood 
for the first time in my life how 
the Alpha of Art and the Omega 
of Human Life may clasp hands, 
so completing the circle of the 

Infinite. 

130 



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My Ragpicker 

I had lingered long, too long, 
for the clocks were striking three ; 
but before I turned my face to- 
wards Rue Laffitte I looked once 
more at Our Lady. The moon- 
light graced her shadowy arms 
that seemed raised in benediction 
upon the vast sleeping life of the 
city at her feet. . . . 

It was time to close my eyes, 
and nothing but the rumble of a 
donkey-cart beneath my window 
could have opened them at the 
unheard-of hour of five in the 
morning. I sprang to the shut- 
ters, and looked out. Sure enough , 
there they were ! Donkey-cart, 
white bulldog, Linspre and Nan- 
ette ! The donkey brayed, the 
131 



My Ragpicker 

bulldog roared, Linspr6 laughed 
in his rich bass, and Nanette cried 

out joyfully :— 

"Good-morning, Monsieur Up- 
before-the-sun ! " at the same time 
presenting me with a huge bou- 
quet, the dew of the flower market 
still upon it, on the end of her 
pick. . . . 

Uncork that bottle on the shelf 
behind you, Cupidon, — genuine 
Beaujolais, its fellow I drank 
last night at Nanette's wedding. 
There is no reason why we should 
not celebrate again. Fill to the 
brim, each of you, my yearlings. 
Here's a health— clink— clink ! 
Ah ! I know by the sound you 
are all her well-wishers ; here's a 
132 






My Ragpicker 

health, I say, to my little Mad- 
ame Ragpicker and, your rever- 
ence in all honour, gentlemen, 
Notre Damo of Paris. 




.yTNi5. 



Butler and Tanner, Frome and London 

133